The Morning After: Pineda & Kuroda

(Pineda via AP, Kuroda via Getty)

After a winter of all talk and no action, Brian Cashman made his two biggest moves in roughly two years in the span of an hour or so last night. First he acquired Michael Pineda and Jose Campos from the Mariners for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi, then he agreed to sign Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year deal worth $10M. Just like that, the rotation went from question mark to strength. Freddy Garcia, A.J. Burnett, and Phil Hughes went from the three, four, and five starters to fighting¬† for one rotation spot. It’s pretty awesome.

We’re going to analyze these moves from every freakin’ angle in the coming days, I’m sure of it, but for now let’s start with a collection of thoughts and links…

  • Cashman said over and over again that he didn’t like the pitching prices this offseason, and sure enough his patience was rewarded. After four years of Mat Latos and Gio Gonzalez were each traded for a package of four young players earlier this winter, Cashman got five years of Pineda for just two young players, and he got the Mariners to kick in another prospect as well. Pineda was a steal compared to Latos and Gio.
  • My prospect game is slipping with age, and frankly I had never heard of Campos until the trade. Baseball America provided a full scouting report on the right-hander in their trade analysis, which I recommend reading to familiarize yourself with him. It’s free, you don’t need a subscription. Both Kevin Goldstein and John Sickels considered him the fifth best prospect in the M’s system.
  • There are a lot of great trade recaps out there, but I highly recommend Lookout Landing’s. Jeff Sullivan killed it when he wrote about the emotional disappointment involved with trading young players. We’re all going to miss Montero, but the fans in Seattle feel the same way about Pineda.
  • Assuming he throws a substantial amount of innings, I bet Noesi has a really good year in that division and in that ballpark with that defense next season. Don’t be surprised if he outpitches Pineda in terms of ERA and people are declaring him the “real loss” in the trade by the end of the year.
  • I honestly have no idea what they’re going to do with that last rotation spot, assuming CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Pineda, and Kuroda are locks for the first four spots (in some order). Chances are the Yankees don’t even know what they’re going to do either, and I bet my opinion about what they will/should do will change by the day. Is there a right answer? I’m not sure.
  • I also don’t know what the Yankees will do about their now vacant DH spot, but I highly doubt they’ll sign Prince Fielder. I mean, maybe if he’s willing to do a one-year, $20M “pillow” contract, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. I think they’re more likely to start the year with a rotating DH than they are to sign or trade for a new one.
  • The ESPN Stats & Info Blog put together a great statistical look (with heat maps!) at Pineda, Kuroda, and Montero. It’s relatively short and painless, but informative.

I’ll close with this: it never ceases to amaze me how the Yankees — in the biggest media market in the sport — manage to pull off these deals with no leaks. Pretty much everything they do is a surprise. We heard nothing about their interest in Pineda until after the trade was made, and although we knew they liked Kuroda, we never heard they were close to a deal. The quiet weeks earlier in the offseason were frustrating, but the surprise sure is fun.

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Yankees trade Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi for Michael Pineda and Jose Campos

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

According to multiple reports, the Yankees have traded Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi to the Mariners for Michael Pineda and Jose Campos. Jon Heyman, Greg Johns, Larry Stone, and Jerry Crasnick all deserve some level of credit. Heyman says the Yankees asked about Felix Hernandez before pulling off this deal, but were told he is off limits. That’s not a surprise.

I wrote this mailbag about Pineda back in November, so you can check that out if you’re unfamiliar with the young right-hander. He turns 23 next week and finished fifth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting last year thanks to his 9.11 K/9 (24.9 K%) and 2.89 BB/9 (7.9 BB%) in 171 IP. He is a fly ball pitcher (36.3% grounders last year) and kinda homer prone (0.95 HR/9), so that is a concern. As a fastball-slider pitcher with a show-me changeup, Pineda also has a bit of a platoon split. Plenty of time to work on that though, the guy’s got exactly the kind of power stuff that can play in the AL East. He is under team control for another five years, the next two for the league minimum. Here’s some video.

Campos is a 19-year-old right-hander with enormous upside according to Ben Badler and Kevin Goldstein. Apparently he’s related to the Escobars (Kelvim and Alcides), so he has baseball bloodlines. He checks in at a healthy 6-foot-4 and 195 lbs., and was considered Seattle’s fifth best prospect according to Goldstein (subs. req’d). “Campos had one of the best fastballs in the short-season leagues in 2011,” said KG in his write-up. “It’s plus and more in terms of velocity, sitting in the low 90s with plenty of 95-96 readings every time out. Campos also throws the pitch with the kind of command usually found only in big-leaguers; he works both sides of the plate, paints the corners, and comes at hitters with a strong downward angle.”

In 14 starts and 81.1 IP in the short season Northwest League, Campos struck out 85 and walked just 13. Just dominated the level. Goldstein does caution that he can become a one-pitch pitcher at times, as his changeup and slurvy breaking ball need work. At his age, that’s not much of a surprise. It sure sounds like the fastball is elite though, and that’s a good thing. Here is some video. It’s worth noting that the Yankees and Mariners are the two biggest spenders in Latin America year after year, and all four players involved in this trade were acquired as international free agents.

Losing Montero obviously hurts, especially since the regular lineup isn’t getting any younger. Despite all their work to help him over the years, it was pretty clear that the Yankees didn’t consider him a long-term catcher based on how they used him in September. A few years ago they were willing to trade him for three months of Cliff Lee, and now they got five years of Pineda. They certainly ended up getting better value in return for one of the best position player prospects in baseball, even if it cost them a shot at the 2010 World Series.

I liked Noesi more than most, but he was just a notch above the Adam Warren/David Phelps level in terms of long-term value. He can miss bats and can step right into a big league rotation, but the Yankees have the depth to cover the loss. Noesi’s inclusion in the trade is essentially the cost of doing business. The Yankees will end up with an open 40-man roster spot as a result of the trade, but that will eventually go to Andruw Jones. It hurts to lose Montero, no doubt, but Pineda fits the team’s needs better. This could easily end up another Josh Beckett-Hanley Ramirez situation, where both sides are happy with their return.

Forced Comps: Montero, Banuelos, Betances

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Comparisons have been a part of baseball since long before the internet showed up and made everyone an expert. Players are routinely compared to one another, and this happens with prospects more than anyone else. Fans like to see comps because they want to know how good their favorite minor leaguers will be in the future, but comps often distort the truth more than anything. I used to think Austin Jackson had some Mike Cameron in him, but holy crap was I wrong with that one. Cameron hit 28 homers in Double-A one year, which is two fewer than Jackson hit in his entire minor league career. Comps need to go more than position and skin deep, if you catch my drift.

The most common comps you’ll see are the lazy ones, like my Jackson-Cameron laugher. Lefties from New England get dubbed a Tom Glavine type, soft-tossing righties are the next Greg Maddux, short-ish players that lack tools but play hard are a David Eckstein clone, so on and so forth. Some comps are forced, meaning the two players have one or two things in common — one of them is almost always appearance — but nothing else. I gave up on comps a while ago because ultimately it’s a disservice to both fans and the players, as we end up disappointed when Jesus Montero turns into a really good player but not the historically great Miguel Cabrera.

That said, comps are unavoidable and we see them every day. The Yankees top three prospects have each had a comp tag applied in recent years that’s stuck around, but none of the three are all that accurate. The players may look the same, but that’s not enough to make a comparison valid in my opinion. Let’s dig in…

Jesus Montero
Comp: Carlos Lee
Why It Fits: Handedness and body type
Why It Doesn’t: The big thing here is that Lee is a dead pull hitter, with just 16.0% of his career balls in play going to right field. Here’s his spray chart from the last three seasons (via Texas Leaguers), which really drives home the point. Montero, as you know, is more of an opposite field hitter. Lee also walked (5.3%) and struck out (11.0%) less in the minors that Montero has (7.8 BB% and 16.5 K%). It would be a success if Montero winds up having a career as long (13 seasons) and productive (.355 wOBA and 114 wRC+) as Lee has, but they’d go about it in very different ways.

Manny Banuelos
Comp: Johan Santana
Why It Fits: Smallish lefties, best pitch is changeup
Why It Doesn’t: Banuelos is primarily a fastball-changeup guy like Johan was once upon a time, but his third pitch is a curveball while Santana’s was a slider. Sliders are more effective against same side hitters while curves are a bit more universal, typically used against both righties and lefties regardless of the pitcher’s handedness. Secondly, Banuelos’ changeup isn’t as good as Johan’s. It just isn’t. Santana’s changeup is one of the best ever, and it’s a stretch to use that as a basis of comparison for anyone.

Dellin Betances
Comp: Daniel Cabrera
Why It Fits: Super-tall hard throwers with big stuff and walk problems
Why It Doesn’t: This comp is the most accurate of the three in this post, but again we’re talking about a slider pitcher (Cabrera) versus a curveball pitcher (Betances). Unlike Banuelos and Johan, that is their second pitch, not third. Cabrera was also injury-free in the minors, which Dellin most certainly hasn’t been. There’s also the makeup issue, as Cabrera was a notorious hot-head that had run-ins with coaches and teammates and intentionally threw at batters when things didn’t go his way. Betances has never had that problem, not that we know of anyway.

* * *

Maybe I’m just being nitpicky, but I feel comps should go a little deeper than typically do. In case you haven’t noticed, no one has ever become the next anyone. Every player is unique and they should be treated as such.

Scout’s Notes via Josh Norris

You may have missed them over the holiday weekend, but Josh Norris published a series of short posts with quotes from scouts about various Yankees’ prospects. Among the players covered are system headliners Jesus Montero (“He might be Miguel Cabrera”), Manny Banuelos (“I think he’s the real deal”), Mason Williams (“an above-average major league center field profile”), and Dellin Betances (“he’s going to be a bullpen guy”). Corban Joseph, Angelo Gumbs, Cito Culver, Branden Pinder, and personal fave Bryan Mitchell were covered as well, and Norris also posted an interview with Adam Warren. They’re all quick reads and get RAB’s highest level of recommendation, so check ‘em out.

Report: A’s wanted Montero and top pitching prospects for Gio

Via Andy Martino, the Athletics asked the Yankees for Jesus Montero and “top pitching prospects” when they inquired about left-baller Gio Gonzalez earlier this winter. A few weeks ago we heard that the A’s wanted young, high-end outfielders in return for the 26-year-old, but the Yankees don’t have any of those to offer and it was before Oakland got Collin Cowgill in the Trevor Cahill deal. Considering that Mat Latos just got traded for something less than Montero plus “top pitching prospects,” this was probably an easy no for the braintrust.

Mailbag: Bench, Martin, Hill, Amnesty, JoVa

Seven questions this week, but the answers are pretty short so it’s kinda like a rapid fire mailbag. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send in your questions throughout the week.

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Larry asks: If the plan is to use the Montero as a DH a good amount of the time, should/will the Yankees carry three catchers? If they do, do they carry Cervelli or Romine? Does it make more sense to carry Cervelli since he can play second or third in an emergency?

This situation really is no different that last year, when Jorge Posada was the regular DH. Russell Martin is the starting catcher, Montero is the starting DH, Frankie Cervelli is the backup catcher, and Austin Romine is in Triple-A. They can still let Montero catch say, 25-30 games with that roster, they’ll just have two catcher on the bench that day. Not ideal, but it’s not the end of the world if they do it once or twice a week.

Tucker asks: What’s the real danger in locking up Martin for a 2 or 3-year deal? If one of their catching prospects develops, couldn’t they always just trade him?

There is no real risk, at least not in terms of additional risk compared to the usual risk associated with multi-year contracts. Yeah, he is a catcher, so he is theoretically more of an injury risk than other position players, but nothing insane. It should be relatively ease to move him unless he completely craters, and even if he does, Martin’s unlikely to get paid so much that eating the contract (by designated him for assignment) is out of the question. I wouldn’t go anymore than three years though, his offense is still a question even if his defense is as good as advertised.

Patrick asks: Rich Hill. Second lefty and possibly the long man out of the pen?

Yes as a second lefty but no as a long man. Hill remade himself as a sidearmer this past season in hopes of becoming an effectively left specialist, and he was pretty good for the Red Sox until he blew out his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery last summer. He was non-tendered and will be out until sometime midseason. He’s a minor league contract guy, obviously, but not the worst candidate for a roll of the dice.

Arad asks: ¬†If baseball were to have an amnesty clause where each team could get rid of one player without paying the contract, like basketball has, who would you do it to? I can’t see myself getting rid of Arod. I guess Burnett would be my choice.

Easily Alex Rodriguez, it’s not even a question in my mind. The final two years of A.J. Burnett‘s contract will be a walk in the park compared to the final six of A-Rod‘s deal. Alex is one of my all-time favorite players, but good gravy is that contract ugly. Amnesty the hell out of thing and never look back.

Arms. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Daniel asks: If the Marlins have a hypothetical fire sale at this time next year, and gave each team the opportunity to make ONE offer for Mike Stanton, what would you offer?

Man, I’d offer pretty much everything. Jesus Montero, Brett Gardner, and Ivan Nova? Maybe substitute in Manny Banuelos for Nova, but the point is I’d offer a lot. The kid’s a star, a homer mashing star. Dude just turned 22 years old, and he’s got 56 homers and a .264 ISO in 250 games while playing half his games in a huge park in Florida. We can only dream that Montero turns into that guy that quickly.

Travis asks: Is there any chance Jorge Vazquez gets a shot at being a righty off the bench for the Yankees or is he stuck in AAA until they trade him?

There was an unconfirmed rumor floating around a few days ago that JoVa was headed to Japan, which would be a good move for him. He’d definitely make more money there than he would sitting in Triple-A. And no, he won’t get a chance to be a bench player for the Yankees. The guy has big power but also big holes in his swing, hence the 220 strikeouts in 700 plate appearances between the regular season and winter ball this year. He also doesn’t offer much on defense. Don’t worry, someone else just like him will be along in a year or two.

Chip asks: In light of the Matt Moore contract, would you offer the same contract to Banuelos if he put up something like 9 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 0.6 HR/9 in AAA and forces himself into the major league rotation? Maybe even Montero would take something like that.

I’d offer it to Montero before I offered it to Banuelos (position players are safer than pitchers, yadda yadda yadda), but the Yankees have no reason to rush into a long-term deal with either player. Tampa has to do it because they won’t be able to afford these guys in three or four years, but the Yankees don’t have that problem. They can be patient, see how these guys develop, then make an offer if one is warranted. Just imagine if they’d signed Phil Hughes long-term in 2007, or Nick Johnson in 2003. It’s very risky business when you’re talking about guy with less than two years of service time, just look back at how many Rookie of the Year Award winners were total duds a few seasons later.

On Montero and opposite field power

Over the last few years, we’ve heard quite a bit about Jesus Montero‘s power to right, the opposite field for him. We caught a glimpse of that opposite field power in September, when three of Montero’s four homeruns were hit out to right. For some perspective, Ryan Braun and Matt Kemp tied for the league lead in opposite field homers hit by right-handed batters in 2011. They each had nine, or three times as many as Montero in roughly ten times as many plate appearances.

Opposite field power is generally more impressive than pull power because for one, it takes a ton of raw strength. Making contact with a pitch that is essentially behind you and still driving it 350-feet isn’t something most baseball players can do with regularity. Secondly, it supposedly indicates a better approach and the willingness to wait on a pitch, letting it travel deep in the zone before swinging. That part is more up for debate that the raw strength part, but I certainly think it passes the sniff test.

Over the last three seasons, Nelson Cruz leads all right-handed hitters with a .417 wOBA to the opposite field. Miguel Cabrera is second at .409, and Derek Jeter of all people is third at .398. I only say “of all people” because we don’t think of Jeter as a power guy, but he certainly does a ton of damage the other way. That’s a good reminder that having opposite field power doesn’t necessarily have to mean just homers, it could also means doubles and triples. I don’t expect to see many three-baggers out of Montero, though. Over the last three seasons, righty hitters have averaged a .274 wOBA on balls hit the other way. Clearly, opposite field pop for a righty bat is a pretty scarce and valuable commodity.

Not to rain on the parade, but we have to remember that Montero still has a long way to go before proving that his opposite field pop is a sustainable thing in the big leagues. He had 69 plate appearances and put 44 balls in play in September, which is nothing. Five of Travis Snider’s first eleven homers in the show were hit to the opposite field, and none of the 17 he’s hit since them have gone the other way. This could vanish quick. It was fun to see Montero launch some bombs the other way late last year, and the scouting report indicates that this could be something more than a fluke. The kid sure does seem to have a swing geared for the small part of Yankee Stadium, and that’s pretty exciting.